Students to vote on NZUSA connection

After a drawn-out battle over membership in the national student body, Otago students will vote on the matter in a referendum this week and may rejoin the organisation.

The news comes in the wake of recent comments from then Otago University Students' Association president Paul Hunt that the question would not be put to students.

''A referendum is not the way to resolve the problem,'' he said at the time.

Now, Mr Hunt has submitted two questions on New Zealand Union of Students' Associations (NZUSA) membership to be included in the referendum this week.

''Well, all [the referendum questions] were submitted by me,'' he admitted.

Mr Hunt, who just lost a re-election bid for OUSA presidency, has been outspoken in his opposition to NZUSA this year.

Under Mr Hunt's leadership, OUSA insisted for months it would not pay $21,275 in membership fees owed to NZUSA, before finally agreeing in August to pay.

Mr Hunt said he submitted the questions to drum up excitement around the referendum.

''I think it's important to generate some excitement around the referendum questions, because there's not much interest in them,'' he said.

''We thought NZUSA was a push-button issue.''

The questions ask students if they ''support the OUSA executive's attempts to reform NZUSA'' and if they ''support the OUSA executive's decision to cease spending $45,000 on NZUSA each year''.

The Otago referendum on NZUSA membership comes on the heels of a Victoria University of Wellington Students' Association referendum question that saw 72% of students voting in favour of NZUSA membership.

Like OUSA, the Victoria student body is also in the process of pulling out of the national body. Unlike OUSA, Victoria's referendum was binding, so that association will definitely be rejoining the national body, barring any complaints against the referendum process, president Rick Zwaan said.

NZUSA president Rory McCourt said he was ''definitely pleased about the [Victoria] referendum result''.

He was not as pleased about the Otago referendum questions. The questions were ''not very fairly worded in my view'', he said.

''I think it's a cynical attempt by the outgoing executive to construct consent where it hasn't existed for their actions [pulling out of NZUSA].''

But Mr Hunt said the referendum question was more or less moot in any case, because OUSA president-elect Laura Harris had won the election last week.

Ms Harris ran on what Mr Hunt said was ''basically ... a pro-NZUSA ticket'' with eight other candidates, seven of whom were elected to the OUSA executive last week. He thought it was ''pretty clear that OUSA would be rejoining NZUSA'' under Ms Harris' leadership.

Ms Harris confirmed, as president, she would support OUSA rejoining NZUSA.

''NZUSA is by no means perfect,'' she said.

But, ''we'd rather have something that [we] might have issues with it ... than nothing at all''.

''If we can use what's left of NZUSA to create something better or more suitable, then that is probably one of the ideal solutions.''

carla.green@odt.co.nz

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